Freedom of religion is a constitutionally enjoyed right; however, recent protest in Murfreesboro, Tennessee has made it unclear how far that right extends. In November of last year, a local congregation of 250 Muslim families purchased a 15-acre lot on the southern edge of town for an estimated $320,000. It has been reported that 95% of the funding for the mosque was raised during a three month campaign in middle Tennessee.
The congregation’s intention is to build a mosque and a community center on the lot. During previous years, families would pray at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, which was frequently overcrowded forcing them to gather in the parking lot. The new mosque and community center would remedy this problem and provide the extra room needed.
Despite a green light by local authorities and the support of mixed local religious groups, the building of the mosque has been met with great protest from conservative activists. Events escalated Wednesday when protestors and counter-protestors convened at the courthouse. The gathering resulted in vocal protests, various signs bearing anti-mosque language, as well as the destruction of construction equipment. The protestors contend fears of Islamic radicalism, while those in support of the mosque assert religious intolerance.
Kevin Fisher, the leader of the protest, stated his chief concern is the Islamic center’s decision to bury a body, absent a casket or embalming, on the site. Although the state has approved the proposed burial, Fisher fears water and soil contamination will be unavoidable. Likewise, he also contends that Bradyville Pike, a nearby highway which he considers very dangerous, will be subject to an unmanageable level of traffic.
The Rutherford County Regional Planning Commission Director, Doug Demosi, has reassured that no state regulations have been broken and that no future burials have been allowed. Furthermore, Demosi has stated that he doesn’t believe the mosque’s influence on traffic will be as serious as Fisher believes.
Claire Rogers, the front woman for the counter-protest, alleges these environmental and safety concerns are merely fronts for the real reason behind the protest, religious intolerance. On her group’s Facebook page, Rogers calls for the community to come together to resist these xenophobic urges and to assist the Muslim people in practicing their religion in any manner they please. Republican Congressional candidate Lou Ann Zelenik has announced her concern that the planning commission improperly investigated the center’s ties and sources of funding, resulting in possible illegal connections being overlooked.
This belief is supported by the discovery of a board member of the Islamic center who posted hate speech and support for the terrorist group Hamas on his MySpace page. Acting on this concern, Zelenik has instigated a scrupulous investigation of individuals who were involved with the mosque’s funding, in addition to checking the legitimacy of any and all ties the Islamic center may have. Plans to build are expected to resume upon completion of the investigation.
A Fight About a Mosque in the Middle of Tennessee
Middle Tennessee Divided Over Proposed Islamic Center
Posted by: Eston Whiteside